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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 13 March 2017
Excellent read for the alternative reality or post-truth era we live in.
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on 18 March 2017
A great read with ominous comparisons to Trump's America
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on 5 May 2017
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on 1 May 2017
Brilliant, well crafted, gripping and chilling story.
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on 6 November 2016
This dramatic election year of 2016 made the scenario suggested in this novel timely for me. A fictional politics sees 1940 FDR lose the Presidency in 1940 to Charles Lindbergh, anti-Semitic, sympathetic to Hitler and opposed to US involvement in the Second World War. So, what if?

This is not however a political thriller. In fact the author treads ground familiar from his many other novels. The main interest is in family, community and city [Newark, New Jersey]. The narrator is a child– himself – born in 1933. The ordinary life cares and hopes at this time of Jewish Americans are minutely rendered. Engaging memories and anecdotes abound of Holy High Days, different jobs and occupations, marriage and parenting, school and hobbies, rabbis good and bad, gangsters and racketeers.

National and international events are referenced through their impact on these things. Philip’s parents try to protect him – so far as they can – from the worsening situation and from him knowing about it. Through their struggles he comes to understand them and their strengths. He also comes of age himself – guilt is never far away in Roth’s novels, of course.

The counterfactual scenario is not elaborated in that much detail. Like the narrator we spend very little time in Washington - indeed a journey to the city limits is a reckless adventure for the story teller. This takes the heat off the author somewhat – alternative history is a genre to itself. Here we can suspend disbelief when a more politically driven thriller might have raised scepticism and “Yes, but that couldn’t have happened”.

What he does suggest has enough inherent plausibility for the novel to work - just. An addendum references the real history of the time and pens biographies of the main characters.
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VINE VOICEon 19 October 2004
It is an oft-stated cliché that many families in the U.S. are but one or two paychecks away from poverty. Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America" suggests that perhaps U.S. society in 1940 (and perhaps again in 2004) one election surprise away from fascism. The Plot Against America also suggests that many families are but one step away from falling into dysfunctionality and despair. Although such a topic is susceptible of trite, formulaic prose, in the hands of Philip Roth it works remarkably well.
The story line is rather simple. Taking on the genre of alternate history (with which he shares with no small amount of irony at least some creative DNA with the conservative former Congressman Newt Gingrich, now an author of alternative history fiction), Roth imagines a United States in which Charles Lindbergh storms the deadlocked 1940 Republican Convention, upsets Wendell Wilkie (the actual non-isolationist Republican candidate) for the nomination, then barnstorms the nation in a novel election campaign that ousts Franklin Roosevelt from the White House. "Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War" serves as the victorious campaign slogan. Slowly, but inexorably, U.S. isolationist policy grows stronger after it signs a non aggression pact with Germany and Japan. Britain grows weaker, and Lindbergh's cabinet and the Republican congress enact a series of laws that cause no small bit of consternation in America's Jewish community.
So far, there is nothing about the story line that is at all unusual in the alternate history genre. However, Roth writes his story through the eyes of one Phil Roth, youngest child of the Roth family of the Wequahic section of Newark. This alone sets The Plot apart from what is typically found in this genre. Roth's examination of the lives of big events through the eyes of a 'little' man creates a subcontext that is rife with meaning for anyone who has experienced the joys and despairs of a family in crisis.
The Roth family, generally enjoying the rising working class/middle class fruits of life in mid-20th century America suddenly sees its internal world ripped asunder by these big events. The Roth family is, as is most of their Jewish neighbors, horrified at Lindbergh's election and justifiably fearful of what lies ahead. Unfortunately, their fears are well founded. Roth's Plot is as much, if not more, the story of the reaction of one family to this alternate history as the story of a nation at war with itself.
If Roth can be faulted for painting his alternate history with a broad and perhaps overly simpistic brush he cannot be faulted for the depth and insight into the life of a family tempest-tossed by a society gone mad. It is nuanced and meaningful. Roth's writing can be, and often is, stunning. As has always been his habit when he is on form, Roth is capable of crafting beautiful sentences and paragraphs. By looking at world-shattering events through the prism of a young man's eyes those events take on additional meaning because they can be understood on a familial rather than on a societal level.
Roth does have some fun with the historical figures that appear throughout the book. Walter Winchell, once the country's most famous radio reporters (and also the voice over narrator of the old Untouchables television series) leads the post-election campaign against Lindbergh and his cronies, most notably the viciously anti-Semitic Henry Ford. FDR and Fiorello LaGuardia also play important roles in Roth's alternate universe.
There are, no doubt, many readers that will resent what seems to be an attack on a person with the heroic stature of Lindbergh. That may be so, yet Roth does not go over the top in my opinion and by book's end does evoke more than a bit of sympathy for Lucky Lindy. Similarly, many have asserted that Roth's approach to the 1940 election, Contains a rather blunt allegory to the 2004 election campaign. To that extent, no one should doubt Roth's probably political point of view. Again, that may be so. However, as if clear from the book's ultimate resolution (which should be left undisclosed in a review) that this society can sustain and repel challenges to the type of authoritarian regime imposed in Roth's alternate history is a far more optimistic world view than some of Roth's critics may credit him with.
Possible allegories aside, this is one of Roth's best efforts in recent years and I think that there is much to be gained by reading the book, no matter where ones current political sensibilities find their home. His prose is more concise than it has been for some time. For the first time in a long time, Roth seems more interested in telling a story in comprehensible declarative sentences than in creating sentences that do little more than establish his credentials as a 'serious' writer. The Plot Against America can be enjoyed on any number of levels. It is not simply a parable of contemporary society and can be enjoyed simply for the quality of the writing.
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on 5 February 2017
Although there are frightening similarities between "the American First " programme of Charles Lindbergh and Donald Trump, and I am sure sales of this book will rocket, this was not the reason that I read it. I had loved Roth's "American Pastoral" and my son gave me this one for Christmas.
The book's big picture ( Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator becoming present) is so convincing that I was glad at the end there was a postscript of true history. For me, it was the smaller picture of life seen through the eyes of a young boy being brought up by his family of hardworking second generation Jews in Newark that was so touching. It is a real skill to recall what goes on in your head as a young child.
Easily the best book that I have ever read, but then I said that about American Pastoral!
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on 15 March 2017
I really enjoyed this book, although there were one or two flaws that stopped it from being amazing. The author created a realistic setting and it really felt as if he was recounting his childhood. However, I think having such a young narrator was a mistake, kids at that age don't understand politics and are limited in their actions. In fact the narrator doesn't really do anything in the book, merely observe. What little he does do, doesn't really make sense (why did he follow people on a bus?) although that was probably deliberate (young children don't make much sense).

I really enjoyed the political aspect of the book and wished that more attention had been given to it. (For example, what policies did Lindbergh implement?). I felt the depiction of his rise was very well done and very realistic. It's an accurate depiction of the rise of authoritarian leaders and very relevant for today. Lindbergh is at first greeted with shock, then confident assurances that he will be defeated. When he wins, the divide in reaction is interesting, some are terrified while others think this is paranoia.

What prevented this book from getting 5/5 is the anti-climatic ending. There was a lot of buildup before an abrupt halt and almost an deus ex machina solution. Especially as we don't see the main characters or how they react to most of it. It's not so much an ending as a point where Roth stopped writing.
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on 8 March 2017
Brilliant book
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on 27 December 2016
A very interesting read, a great book
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